October 2nd, 2021
By Ahmed Saeed
Senate’s standing committee on Interior has unanimously cleared the bill to amend the Pakistan penal code (PPC) to criminalize the defiling or removing the portrait of Quaid-e-Azam without an authority.
The bill was moved by Pakistan Muslim League (N) senator Pir Sabir Shah who termed it as “need of the hour to punish those who disrespect country’s founding father”.
The bill proposes adding a new section 123(C) in the PPC. The new sectioned states: “Whoever deliberately defiles or puts on fire the portrait of Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Founder of Pakistan, or unauthorizedly removes it from any office or premises or other property of government, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to five years but shall not be less than six months, or with fine which shall not be less than fifty thousand rupees, or with both.”
The bill also proposes to make the offences mentioned in the section 123 (C) as non-bailable and non-compoundable. It also calls for enhancing the quantum of punishment for section 123 (B), which deals with the defiling or unauthorizedly removing of national flag from three years imprisonment to five years.
The bill will now be tabled in the senate for further discussion and approval. If passes by the senate, it will be forwarded to National assembly for approval.
“Bill is necessary to ensure respect for Quaid-e Azam”
Talking to voicepk.net over the phone, Sabir Shah says that he moved the bill to inculcate a sense of patriotism in the younger generations. “If we do not ensure respect for father of the nation then how can we tell our coming generations about the importance of this country”, Shah says
When asks whether this bill will also be applicable on the currency notes as they also carry a picture of Quaid-e Azam, Shah responds “if anyone deliberately defiles or put it on fire with a clear intention of disrespecting the Quaid, then that person must be held accountable under the proposed law.
“Bill should not be misused by govts”
Last year in October, the Sindh police arrested a senior PML-N leader and husband of Mayam Nawaz, Captain Safdar for raising slogans under the premises of tomb of Quaid e Azam in Karachi. He was booked under The Quaid-i-Azam’s Mazar (Protection and Maintenance) Ordinance, 1971. The party cried foul over the arrest and termed it as political victimization on Quaid’s name.
When asks about that since his party had been the victim of such laws in the past then why still he moved such a bill, to which he responded that there is no harm in legislation on such issues but it is the government’s responsibility not to use them against political opponents.
Bill infringes on freedom of speech: activists
However, rights activists believe that there is no need to legislate on such issues as they have always been proved counterproductive in the past.
“We cannot force people to respect Quaid-e-Azam by making such laws instead we should act upon his teachings on inclusiveness and rule of law”, says Usama Khilji, director of Bolo Bhi a research and advocacy non-profit focusing on digital rights.
He adds that after all Jinnah was also a politician there are different views regarding his politics and polices. “The constitution does not bar anyone from criticizing founder of the nation. Such steps will only result in further curtailing the freedom of speech and sets a precedent to suppress the voices of dissent.”
Zohra Yousaf, senior journalist and former Chairperson of the HRCP says that the bill will infringe people’s right to free speech as everyone is entitled to have opinions about anyone disregard of their contributions for any segment of the society.
She warns that the bill if becomes an act will be used arbitrarily as it will be difficult to ascertain that who is defiling the portrait deliberately or who is doing so by mistake.
“I also think that this bill can be used against mentally challenged people as they don’t have the capability to distinguish between right and wrong”, Yousaf says.